Jim couldn’t find any photos of his first frame, so here’s a recent frankencross build.
My First Bike explores the life and work of professional frame builders by going back to the start and looking at the first bike they ever built. Today’s My First Bike features Jim Kish of Kish Fabrication.
Give me the short rundown of your first frame: when was it built, where, materials, any special details about it, etc.
I moved from Vermont to Talent, Oregon in 1991 in order to be close to United Bicycle Institute. I was looking for an alternative to my current career being a tour leader and mechanic and I had heard that UBI had recently started teaching frame building in addition to mechanics. I was sold. I signed up for every class I could afford and one of those was a brazed and lugged steel frame class.
I chose to rip off a bike design I loved at the time, from the Ibis Mt Trials, which was a great trail bike with a 24″ rear wheel and 26″ front. It was not the most lug-friendly design, lots of weird angles, but I managed to make it happen with the help and patience of Ron Sutphin and the rest of the UBI staff.
I couldn’t tell you what tubing was used–that was a long time ago–I’d guess True Temper AVR given the vintage. I rode the trails around Ashland, OR nearly every day then and that bike served me well for a couple years until I replaced it with a titanium version I built.
Why did you choose to build the Ibis-style bike for your first one?
Even though I did a lot of touring in the late 80’s – early 90’s, enough of it was on dirt and gravel that I always used a mountain bike. So that’s what I was used to. I chose the Mt Trials version because it seemed well suited to the trails in the area and it was a fun bike to just ride around town on, which I spent a lot of time doing before I had an actual job.
What attracted you to frame building and how did you learn the craft?
I’ve spent my whole life involved with bikes, from BMX racing to road to touring, so I knew I wanted to stay in the bike industry after leaving my bike touring job. I’m relatively competent working with my hands so frame building seemed like a logical next step.
I imposed myself on UBI by moving down the road from their campus, taking all their classes and then more or less refusing to leave. They let me use their shop to build my next several bikes while I was the service manager at a local shop. A few months later they hired me to help in their classes.
Did you go into it planning to make frame building a career, or did that come later?
I went into it planning that frame building would be my career. I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.
My first customer bought the second frame I ever built and it’s still on the road 20+ years later. Same with the first titanium bike I built.
Another newer Kish.
What career would you want to have if you weren’t working as a frame builder?
I would love to have the time to do more woodworking and lutherie. In a parallel universe I’d be building fiddles and banjos right now.